Nystrom brings experiences from Ground Zero in 2001 to Wisconsin’s official 9/11 memorial

Nystrom was featured on many TV stations in Milwaukee, including the Fox 6 affiliate. Screenshot

If you’ve known Martin “Marty” Nystrom, of Kearny, for a while, there are several givens most will recall about him.

On or around and in the summer months before Sept. 11, the anniversary of the worst day in modern American history, you will find him doing several things. First, it will be his taking groups of Junior Police Academy cadets from Kearny, Harrison and East Newark on solemn journeys to Ground Zero, where he leads them on tours of the site of that most fateful day (on separate occasions, we might add — all on his own dime and time.)

Then, he will be found annually at Kearny High School leading a remembrance for the students of the school so the memory of that day will be kept alive forever. It’s remarkable dedication he shows at all of these aforementioned events and it’s all because for days, right after the towers fell 22+ years ago, he worked at the pit in Lower Manhattan when he served as the chief of the Maplewood Rescue Squad.

What he went through that day never left his mind, his spirit. And it has transcended into thousands of people learning about that day, and its aftermath, for decades, because of him.

And while all of these things are impressive, it was what he went through on the actual 22nd anniversary of the attacks that may rank among the greatest of them all: Nystrom was invited to deliver the keynote at Wisconsin’s official Sept. 11, 2001, memorial — which he did — and more.

The invitation came from a man called Gordon Haberman, whose daughter, Andrea, was in New York City on Sept. 11, 2001, for a three-day business trip, the first business trip she’d ever taken. She was on the 89th floor of the North Tower, and didn’t make it home, despite what reports indicate was a valiant effort by Andrea and her colleagues to escape the Tower that day.

“All three stairwells were filled with rubble,” Mr. Haberman told Fox 6 in Milwaukee. “Of course, the elevators were gone. The doors blew out. She was on the phone with her co-worker in Chicago, describing the view of the Statue of Liberty, when the (first) plane hit (just a couple of floors above her.)”

Mr. Haberman is a huge part of the Wisconsin 9/11 Memorial committee, where he is one of the state’s most prolific donors and, which, somehow, took until 2021 to build. Think bureaucratic red tape. A magnificent beam culled from the North Tower, where Andrea was that day, sits atop of pentagon-shaped pedestal. The beam points east toward New York City.

Mr. Haberman got in touch with Trinity Church in Manhattan, where each year, now, Nystrom reads the names of the people who have died from Sept. 11-related complications in the year just gone by. That number, sadly, continues to get higher and higher.

Mr. Haberman asked Trinity to find someone who was an EMT that day and who had a story to tell — and sure enough, that was the easy part. And it was fate that it would be Nystrom chosen.

Nystrom agreed to fly out to Wisconsin, and journey to the town of Kewaskum — population 4,004 as of 2010 — where the memorial lives.

Marty’s trip and keynote, however, almost fell apart before it got to happen.

His original flight from EWR was canceled, and one might say that was almost destined to happen since the weather wasn’t stellar. But it was actually the same airline that came to the rescue, finding him a flight to Chicago, instead.

So Nystrom flew there instead, fortunately only about 90 miles away, where he met a relative of Mr. Haberman’s who drove him to Wisconsin — then Mr. Haberman shuttled him the rest of the way to Kewaskum, around 45 miles from Milwaukee.

Now that Nystrom was finally there, it was time to get to work. But before we get to all of this, there was a another big reason why Nystrom was asked to be the keynote that we failed to mention earlier. In what might be called the heyday for volunteers rescue squads, there were 465 of them in the Garden State. Now, that number has fallen by at least 200.

Wisconsin, the Badger State, is experiencing a similar fate. And organizers were hoping Nystrom would be able to offer advice as to how to improve that reality. And he did that, though it remains to be seen whether governments in the two states will actually heed his advice.

Now, the overcast weather forecast for Sept. 11, 2023 ultimately forced what is traditionally an outdoor ceremony, inside. The place, Nystrom tells us, was packed to the gills, with a standing-room-only crowd of 200 or so onlookers, many of whom were youngsters who — get this — traveled nearly three hours to get there from other parts of Wisconsin. The ceremony started at 11 a.m. that morning, and those kids had arrived at 9:30 — so one could only guess what time they had to get up to begin their vehicular journey to Kewaskum.

“There were a lot of people trying to get in,” Nystrom says. “And there were media there from many outlets, Fox, NBC, CBS, radio stations. It was just remarkable.”

Nystrom delivered his always-stirring speech.

“There were literally thousands of you cheering us on as we were coming in and going out,” Nystrom says in his speech, captured by Fox 6 Milwaukee. “Imagine that? Just people of all walks and they were throwing water bottles at us (nicely), chocolate bars, packs of cigarettes, cigars, shoes, socks, underwear, clothes — it didn’t stop. We couldn’t believe it.”

Then he and other speakers recalled how HIPAA regulations — yeah, HIPAA regulations — have caused so many volunteer squads to shut down. Then, the next day, he delivered two more unplanned talks — one to ninth-graders at Kewaskum High School and the other to fourth- and fifth-graders at an elementary school in the town.

It also was all a reminder to the EMT veteran how now, even 22 years later, it is vital for folks to remember the horrors of that day of terror.

“Our parents’ generation had Pearl Harbor,” he says. “That day, 9/11, was a call to arms. We can never be too busy to remember the (2,900+) people who died. If we keep forgetting, we stop being the nation we were after that all happened.”

Nystrom also says he was quite enamored by Mr. Haberman, his family and all the wonderful people he met in Wisconsin, old and especially young.

“Being a first-responder is a calling,” Nystrom says. “I always tell the younger kids when you get to be 15, 16, 17, 18 you won’t just feel this one morning. The calling is something to embrace. Chase it. We could really use you help!”

In addition to working with the Maplewood Squad, Nystrom also spent 13 years in the Ironbound where his squad serviced St. James Hospital, Newark. 

Learn more about the writer ...

Kevin A. Canessa Jr. is the editor of and broadcaster at The Observer, a place where he has served on and off since 2006. He is responsible for the editorial content of the newspaper and website, the production of the e-Newspaper, writing several stories per week (including the weekly editorial), conducting live broadcasts on Facebook Live, including a weekly recap of the news — and much more behind the scenes. Between 2006 and 2008, he introduced the newspaper to its first-ever blog — which included podcasts, audio and video. Originally from Jersey City, Kevin lived in Kearny until 2004, lived in Port St. Lucie. Florida, for four years until February 2016 and in March of that year, he moved back to West Hudson to return to The Observer full time. Click Here to send Kevin an email.